Kids today are different than what we used to be. We all know that. I’m not just talking about body piercings at age 8 or the wacky lingo like “LOL 24-7 🙂 CU L8R” or “playa hatin'” (which en espanol means “hating the beach”, and come on…who hates the beach?). Although this column wasn’t supposed to be about generational lexicon differences, it is amusing to hear kids talk nowadays. I sound like such an old man saying that, but I don’t care.

I was in the mall actually buying stuff (that concept probably boggles the minds of many high school kids, but they don’t read my website anyway, so who cares) when I overheard a group of 13-year-olds (aka loiterers) talking. I think they were trying to break the world record for the number of times the word “like” can be used in a minute. Evidently one of the rules was that grammatical sense didn’t matter. I stopped counting at 73…in 41 seconds.

You know those Nextel commercials with Detective Sipowitz? “I don’t do ads!” Yeah, those. I’m sure that’s a great product to have if you actually have business to discuss. If you’re a parent and you buy your teenager a Nextel, you should be tarred, feathered, and forced to watch the WNBA (not just the highlights…well, it doesn’t matter really). The only thing more annoying than a teenager with a cell phone is a couple of teenagers with Nextel two-way radio cell phones. I overheard a conversation in a movie theatre lobby back in February. (Note: if this happened in the actual movie theatre, I would be in jail right now facing felony assault charges.) When reading this, you should imagine the funky “blriiip” sound to get the full effect.
“(funky beep, like blriiip) Danny.”
“(blriiip) Like yeah.”
“(blriiip) Sup?” (Note: Any sentence or question can be contracted to one word if you try really hard. In this instance, the words “what”, “is”, and “up” combine cleverly to form three simple letters-sup. Speaking the whole sentence would only waste valuable seconds.)
“(blriiip) Nothin’. Like, where you?” (Note: Verbs waste time as well.)
“(blriiip) Like parking, yo.”
“(blriiip) Cool.”
“(blriiip) Yeah, man.”
“(blriiip) Kelly with you?”
“(blriiip) Like, you like know it.”
“(blriiip) Cool.”
“(blriiip) Yeah.”
“(blriiip) Twizzlers.”
“(blriiip) What?”
“(blriiip) I’m like ordering.”
“(blriiip) Get like me some.”
“(blriiip) No, loser.”
“(blriip) C’mon, punk.”
“(blriiip) Like no.”
“(blriiip) I’m parked. (teenage car alarm sound: bleep-like-bleep)”
“(blriiip) Cool.”
“(blriiip) See ya.”
“(blriiip) Later, like, yo.”
I knew the “conversation” was over when there was a long, eerie pause and then abrupt, raucous cheering from the 100 adults in the lobby. Marilyn Monroe once told Joe DiMaggio that when she entertained our troops, she heard cheering that she was sure nobody had ever heard before. Joe told her he most certainly had while playing at Yankee Stadium. Well, Joe wasn’t at the Regal Cineplex in Nashville on February 12, 2003. It may have been only 100 people, but it was worthy of a hero’s welcome. There should have been confetti and cars dressed as floats. Everyone was happy to see that worthless excuse for English end. Somewhere, William Shakespeare is having convulsions, muttering “It was getting bad, especially in Georgia, but did thou knoweth it would come to this?” Iambic pentameter is now pronounced I-pent, yo.

Maybe some cell companies target teenagers, like the RJ Reynolds of the next generation. Some day, we’ll hear on 60 Minutes about a man with a brain tumor he received from too much cell phone use as a teenager. “I was like told I like needed the phone to keep up with my peeps, yo.” (Note: In this instance, peeps are friends, not marshmallow bunnies you get at Easter.)

I’m getting off track here. (A tangent is not just a line in geometry class.) While over at my sister’s house last week, I realized that kids today are similar to what we were, but also vastly different. They have some similar things, but different meanings. Like, for instance, the definition for “playing football”.

When we were growing up, playing football meant wearing pads and getting dirty, even if you didn’t play in the game. It was common practice to tackle each other on the sidelines just for the hell of it. Sometimes, pads were optional, like when you played neighborhood “two-hand touch”, which was the politically correct term for “shoving your friends in the mud and then tripping on top of them and acting like you’re hurt so you can’t get up while they moan underneath you”. Nowadays, the only injury risk for many kids playing football is spraining a thumb. Move over Spalding, here comes Playstation.

“Uncle Keith…I played football for seven hours today!”
No you didn’t. I don’t care if you do have an ice pack on your wrist. Unless you had it sandwiched between two helmets, you don’t have my sympathy. Computer football may be fun, but it’s not football. Not real football. Man, I never thought I’d see the day when Nerf was not the lowest brand of football in the world.

Is Nerf still out there, or am I going to see one on the Antique Road Show one night, along with a Trapper Keeper and a ColecoVision?

Nerf was a great toy because it was multidimensional. You could play a game in the backyard, then use it to wash the dog. Or chop it up and insulate your treehouse. Or use it as packaging material, like a heavy duty bubble wrap.

Of all the toys we had, Mom hated our Nerf football the most, even more than those loud Hungry Hungry Hippos. She hated it because the TV ads talked about it being a soft ball. So soft…you could play indoors! I imagine the Nerf people received many angry letters from mothers across the country about that piece of advertising.

We were kids. We trusted TV like Charlie Brown trusted Lucy. There was no reason to believe it would lie to us. So we went with it.
“Okay, listen up. It’s me and Chip versus Paul and Holley. Bobby is all time defense. One endzone will be that china cabinet. And one will be the grandfather clock. We’ll line up these breakable lamps and glass vases for the out of bounds line.”

We thought it was all okay. We would think of the TV ad showing the smiling, caring mother in the background, proudly watching her kids playing nice. That commercial certainly wasn’t filmed in our living room. After the first touchdown, Mom came storming in. When she dropped three expletives in a row, that was the signal that the game was over. The early version of the final gun, if you will. (That’s when I learned how to correctly pronounce the three ultimate bad words. But when I tried to practice those pronunciations, I learned what Dial Soap tasted like.)

Nerf was more than just a football. You could play so many other games with it. Like a game we used to call “Throw a ball hard at your friend on a bike.” I know…not very groundbreaking. You won’t see any televised games of bikers dodging Nerf balls, not even in Canada or on ESPN 2 after midnight. But it was fun. Every now and then we’d hit the spokes and the ball would stick, sending pieces of Nerf (symbol Nf on the new periodic table) everywhere. All we had left was a small round ball of inner Nerf. At that point, someone would say, “Who’s up for some spongeball in my room?”
And someone else would respond, “I’ll bring the Wiffleball bat.”
“Is your mom home?”
“I bat first!”
Then we would invent a game called spongeball, which was just like baseball without bases, tobacco, or surly millionaires. If you hit the ball onto the dresser, it was a homerun. If it went into the waste basket, it was a grand slam. I honestly believe that’s how Nerf Basketball was invented.

Ah, the memories. We sure had some nerfy times. And maybe I’m wrong about today’s youth. Maybe when they’re 30, they’ll look back and say, “(blriiip) Dude, like remember when we would go to the movies?”
“(blriiip) Yeah. Now we like work there.”

Stay in school, kids. And I get to play winners in spongeball.

Categories: Columns